Before I picked up ALL THE GOOD THINGS, I’d seen it tweeted, blogged and Instagrammed about with rave reviews. So imagine my surprise when I found myself unable to get in sync with the protagonist, causing me to do something I rarely do – keeping it aside for a later time. After about ten days, I picked up this book again for a fresher look. Perhaps my mood was not right the first time around.
I’ve had mixed feelings about ALL THE GOOD THIGNS since my first attempt at reading it, and unfortunately that is still the case.
ALL THE GOOD THINGS follows the story of Bethany Mitchell, a 21 year old who is in prison because she has done a very “bad thing”. The “bad thing” looms like a shadow over her, causing her therapist Erika to ask her to write a list of “all the good things” that have ever happened to her. And so, as Bethany writes her list we are taken on a journey of pitfalls, little triumphs and people met and lost. It’s in this way that we get a sense of Bethany, her difficult childhood and unruly youth.
I’m not really sure why, but I was unable to connect with Bethany’s voice. The writing style did not work for me, although I can really see why the novel has resonated with so many readers. Perhaps if I’d read it when I was younger I’d have appreciated it more. But for some reason, I wasn’t shook by the story and it didn’t grab my attention. In fact, I feel like a pretty heartless person because I know Bethany has had a horrible life and deserves sympathy and understanding. Yet something in the choppy writing stopped Bethany from becoming a full person in my head – she was a blurry and shaky vision at best.
Now, I know all of this sounds like I had a terrible time with the book, and while I couldn’t help but wish for the book to end already, I really think this book might work better for other readers. It didn’t work for me and I say that with a heavy heart. Bethany’s character is intriguing and her story deserves to be written about, and I wish it had the pull I needed to draw me in and feel a part of the story.
The “bad thing” done by Bethany makes her a criminal, and keeping the nature of her crime a secret till the end makes sense because the author wants the reader to not judge Bethany immediately – so I get that. However, while I understood that and the anger issues in her childhood (especially the ones caused by her mother not showing up to meet), I felt the writer played too much into the stereotype of the “broken” child turning into a rash youth who can’t seem to know how to make good decisions. So, Bethany’s inability to make good decisions, her lack of self-preservation and her self-deprecating view of herself makes sense to an extent, but instances like her relationship with Phil and how it all plays out makes me question whether the author wanted to create as much pity as possible. This is a novel of forgiveness, but is it necessary to take away any other option from the reader? I’d have preferred if the ending was a little more ambiguous on those counts.
One takeaway in ALL THE GOOD THINGS is the important narrative it offers on mental health, how mental illness impacts others and the repercussions of a flawed child services system. I think these themes are done really well and they’re what make me want to look out for Fisher’s future work.
Final thoughts: This novel didn’t work for me for some reasons, but I expect other readers will have a much better experience that I did.
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